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We here at the Zone Press would like to wish you and yours Happy Holidays. And if your team is out of the playoff picture, we have a brandy and rum eggnog recipe for you here. Stay safe and blessed out there folks.
Week 16 Headlines
Panthers Shut Down Newton: Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will not play Sunday against Atlanta and is expected to be shut down for the final two games as he continues to deal with a sore throwing shoulder
Ravens Stick With Harbaugh: According to the NFL Network, the Baltimore Ravens and Head Coach John Harbaugh are working on a contract extension.
Fantasy Football Start Em/Sit Em
Starting Quarterbacks: Russell Wilson, Mitchel Trubisky, Baker Mayfield, Matt Ryan, and Sam Darnold.
Sitting Quarterbacks: Jared Goff, Jameis Winston, Matthew Stafford, Josh Allen, and Nick Mullens.
Starting Running Backs: Nick Chubb, Phillip Lindsay, Derrick Henry, Chris Carson, and Marlon Mack
Sitting Running Backs: Matt Breida, Adrian Peterson, Peyton Barber, Josh Adams, and Leonard Fournette.
Starting Wide Receivers: Amari Cooper, Robert Woods, Tyler Lockett, Calvin Ridley, and Robby Anderson.
Sitting Wide Receivers: Allen Robinson, D.J. Moore, Mike Williams, Adam Humphries, and Sterling Shepard.
Starting Tight Ends: Eric Ebron, David Njoku, Evan Engram, Austin Hooper, and Jared Cook.
Sitting Tight Ends: Jimmy Graham, Trey Burton, Gerald Everett, Vance McDonald, and Ian Thomas.
Starting Defense/Special Teams: Rams, Titans, Colts, Cowboys, and Broncos.
Sitting Defense/Special Teams: Steelers, Ravens, Eagles, Seahawks, and Steelers
Game Picks (Season Record 139-88-2)
Titans vs. Redskins: Tennessee needs to keep winning to keep their playoff hopes alive. The recent emergence of Derrick Henry has provided a much-needed boost to their offense. Their ‘Smashville’ approach isn’t going to win any beauty contest, but it’s the only thing going for them now. Also, now would be a great time for Marcus Mariota to emerge and make some plays. On the other side of the field, the Redskins playoff hopes are also still alive. But their fading roster makes it hard to trust them. They’re starting a quarterback from the Alliance league and the weapons surrounding him are banged up. Eventually, the Titans defense will close in on Adrian Peterson, and the Titans will get a tough win.
Prediction: Titans win 21-16
Chargers vs. Ravens: The Chargers are the talk of the league following a shocking comeback win against the Chiefs. If they can win out and get a Chiefs loss, the road to the Super Bowl will go through Carson. If not, the Chargers will have to take the long way to a potential Super Bowl berth. Baltimore currently has possession of the final AFC playoff spot. They’ve also been one of the hottest teams in the league so far led by their defense and a run-first offense. One thing to note is that the Ravens have played some of the worst defenses in the league over their recent stretch of success. The Chargers defense won’t allow them to run the ball so easily. So Lamar Jackson will have to be careful when he’s forced to throw the ball. Philip Rivers will also need to be careful going up against the league’s best defense. In what will probably be decided by who commits the fewer mistakes, I’ll trust the veteran Rivers to do a better job than the rookie Jackson.
Prediction: Chargers win 21-12
Cowboys vs. Buccaneers: Dallas had a golden opportunity to clinch the NFC East last week, but ended up laying a goose egg in Indianapolis. With their history of past collapses, they would be wise to take care of business now. Their defense, in particular, will have to be careful against a Bucs offense that could be dangerous. The focus will be on getting pressure on Jameis Winston and forcing him to turn the ball over. Given how mistake-prone Winston is, this shouldn’t be much of an issue. And expect Zeke Elliot to go off in this game. Tampa Bay allows nearly five yards per carry on the ground.
Prediction: Cowboys win 27-17
*Playoff Clinching Scenario: Dallas will clinch the NFC East with a win or losses/ties from the Eagles and Redskins.
Lions vs. Vikings: With a new offensive coordinator, the Vikings finally committed to the run game. The results were great as they scored a season-high 41 points on Miami. When Minnesota rushes for less than 90 yards, they are 1-5-1. Also, the Vikings are 7-1 when Kirk Cousins throws the ball 40 times or less. And given the Lions terrible run defense, you can expect the Vikings to return to the ground game and go from there. As for the Lions, their offense has been struggling for a while and their defense has can’t hope to stop the Vikings. So expect a rout in this one.
Prediction: Vikings win 35-17
*Playoff Clinching Scenario: The Vikings can clinch a playoff berth with a win, an Eagles loss or tie, and a Redskins loss.
Panthers vs. Falcons: Carolina is technically still in the playoff hunt, but have likely conceded such aspirations after shutting down the injured Cam Newton. Taylor Heinicke will now be quarterbacking the team, and a vulnerable Falcons defense is a nice opponent to play against. Per Pro Football Focus, the Falcons rank 30th in tackling and 29th in defending running backs. So Christian McCaffrey will likely see the bulk of offensive touches for the Panthers. This could serve dual purposes. Not only would they attack the Falcons weaknesses, but they would also keep the Falcons offense on the sideline. Speaking of the Falcons offense, Matt Ryan should find success throwing the ball down the field against the Panthers secondary. And if he gets enough opportunity, he should do just that.
Prediction: Falcons win 28-21
Eagles vs. Texans: Last year, Nick Foles led the gang of underdogs to a Super Bowl. Now, the Eagles have adopted a new persona. Expect to see a few ski mask as “Robbing Season” is in full effect. But the Eagles have a tough road ahead of them if they want to make the playoffs. Up first, is a Texans team trying to secure a first-round bye in the AFC. The Texans won’t have Lamar Miller in the backfield. So I expect the Eagles pass rush to pin their ears back and go after the quarterback. And they’ll need to do so given the state of their secondary. Also, the Texans haven’t committed a turnover in seven of their last eight games. If the Eagles can’t change that, they’ll have a tough time winning this one. And given that the Texans defense has the ability to eliminate the run, it will be all on Foles. I just don’t believe lightning can strike twice for the Eagles.
Prediction: Texans win 28-23
*Playoff Clinching Scenarios: Houston will clinch the AFC South with a win or a tie. Houston can also clinch a first-round bye with a win combined with a Patriots loss or tie. In the event of a tie with the Eagles, the Texans clinch a first-round bye with a Patriots loss.
Colts vs. Giants: Indianapolis pitched a shutout against the previously hot Cowboys. And since the Giants will be playing without Odell Beckham Jr., I expect similar results in this game. So long as the Colts can do to Saquon Barkley what they did to Ezekiel Elliot, they should have no trouble in this game. Also, Andrew Luck should have no problems against the Giants defense.
Prediction: Colts win 30-17
Browns vs. Bengals: Yes, Cleveland is still in the playoff hunt. But they’ll need heaven and earth to shift in order to get there. Fortunately, they’re playing with their now sense of pride now. A win could sentence the Bengals to a last-place finish in the AFC North. And given the state of the Bengals team, the Browns are clearly better. This isn’t the Oakland defense that the Bengals get to run over. Yes, Joe Mixon leads the AFC in rushing, but the Browns will hone in on him given the fact Jeff Driskel is throwing the ball for Cincy. So long as the Browns take care of the football, they should have no trouble with the Bengals.
Prediction: Browns win 24-14
Patriots vs. Bills: Losing two straight in December, making the news for the wrong reasons, and losing to Pittsburgh? These clearly aren’t the same old Patriots we’ve gotten accustomed to. Instead, they’re just getting old. Without Josh Gordon, Tom Brady will likely rely even more on James White. Julian Edelman and Gronk look like they’ve lost a couple of steps and the Patriots defense breaks far more often than they should. Yes, ladies and gentleman, the Patriots are vulnerable. As for this week, look for the Patriots to blow the Bills away. After all, the Bills have never gone on the road and beaten Tom Brady. Never.
Prediction: Patriots win 31-16
*Playoff Clinching Scenario: New England will win the AFC East once again with a win or a Dolphins loss/tie.
Jets vs. Packers: Neither team has anything to play for. I’m actually surprised that Aaron Rodgers may be playing. If so, expect about three-quarters of work from Rodgers as he dices the Jets defense.
Prediction: Packers win 38-14
Dolphins vs. Jaguars: After losing to the wounded Redskins, can anyone take the Jaguars seriously?
Prediction: Dolphins win 20-12
49ers vs. Bears: Now that the Bears have clinched the NFC North, this could easily be a trap game. But this game has one key stat. The Bears have the best turnover differential in the league and the Niners have the worst. The Bears defenses will feast in this one.
Prediction: Bears win 31-13
Cardinals vs. Rams: The Rams have picked a bad time to start struggling, but a game against the lowly Cardinals will serve as a good confidence boost for the entire team.
Prediction: Rams win 35-9
*Playoff Clinching Scenarios: The Rams can clinch a first-round bye with a win and a Bears loss/tie. If the Rams tie the Cardinals, they’ll need a Bears loss to get that first-round bye.
Saints vs. Steelers: Hell froze over last week as the Steelers finally beat New England. And boy did they need that win given the current AFC playoff standings. A win against the Saints can also go a long way in ensuring a playoff berth. Meanwhile, the Saints have struggled ever since they lost the Cowboys. But now, they’ll be playing at home where Drew Brees’ passer rating is 40 points higher. The Saints also average 10 more points per game when playing at home. One thing working in the Steelers favor going into New Orleans is that four Saints offensive lineman have appeared on the injury report. If the Steelers defense can get into the Saints backfield, they can make the game very interesting. But the Saints have advantages of their own. The Saints have the top run defense in the league and the Steelers will be without James Conner once again. If the Steelers are forced to throw the ball, you can pretty much guarantee mistakes by Ben Roethlisberger. At least Drew Brees won’t throw his team out of the game.
Prediction: Saints win 34-27
*Playoff Clinching Scenarios: The Saints can secure home-field advantage with a win. They can also clinch home field with a Bears loss/tie and a Rams loss. In the event of a tie, the Saints will need a Rams loss or tie to secure home-field.
Seahawks vs. Chiefs: Kansas City didn’t do themselves any favors with their collapse last week against the Chargers. Now, they’ll need to win out to secure their division and a bye. Failure to do so means the Chiefs will be on the road for the playoffs. This week offers a unique test for the Chiefs. In a way, you can say the Seahawks were built to beat the Chiefs. Seattle leads the league in rushing, and that will be their calling card in this game. The Chiefs defense will struggle to get them off the field. This means less time for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense on the field. Also, they’ll find it harder to corral Russell Wilson. They were able to pressure Philip Rivers because he’s basically a statue in the pocket. Wilson has a jetpack. With all that laid out, the Chiefs should take this game as their final test before the playoffs. The Chiefs defense, in particular, will have to prove they can carry their own weight going forward. If they do so, they can be taken seriously as AFC favorites. If not, expect another painful chapter to be added to the Chiefs history of playoff failure. I believe the Seahawks style gives them the edge in this one, but the Chiefs are more than welcome to prove me wrong.
Prediction: Seahawks win 24-21
*Playoff Clinching Scenarios: The Chiefs will clinch the AFC West with a win and a Chargers loss. The Chiefs can clinch home-field advantage with a win, a Chargers loss, and a Texans loss or tie.
*The Seahawks can clinch a playoff berth with a win and a Redskins loss or tie. Additionally, the Seahawks clinch a playoff berth with a win or tie combined with a Vikings loss.
Raiders vs. Broncos: The Oakland Raiders will take the field within Oakland city limits for perhaps the final time. Their opponent will be their historic rivals, the Denver Broncos. Neither team is any good, but the Broncos have the edge due to two key factors. First, the Raiders offensive line is terrible. Derek Carr will be well aquatinted with Bradley Chubb and Von Miller by the end of the game. The second key is that the Raiders defense can’t stop anyone. That goes double for their run defense. So expect a lot of Philip Lindsay in this game for the Broncos. I have a sneaking suspension that the Raiders will feed off of a potential riot environment and win the game. But after last week’s outing against the Bengals, I can’t trust the Raiders to give the fans in Oakland a proper sendoff. What will be a proper sendoff is if the Black Hole spills onto the field.
Prediction: Broncos win 24-21